NASA’s LDSD “Saucer-Shaped” Mars Landing Test is a Partial Success

After a number of scrubs due to high winds at its Hawaii test site, NASA was finally able to conduct the first of three planned Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test flights on Saturday.

From the NASA news release:

The balloon launch occurred at 8:45 a.m. HST (11:45 a.m. PDT/2:45 p.m. EDT) from the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. At 11:05 a.m. HST (2:05 p.m. PDT/5:05 p.m. EDT), the test vehicle dropped away from the balloon (as planned), and powered flight began. The balloon and test vehicle were about 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean at the time of the drop. The vehicle splashed down in the ocean at approximately 11:35 a.m. HST (2:35 p.m. PDT/5:35 p.m. EDT), after the engineering test flight concluded.

This test was the first of three planned for the LDSD project, developed to evaluate new landing technologies for future Mars missions. While this initial test was designed to determine the flying ability of the vehicle, it also deployed two new landing technologies as a bonus. Those landing technologies will be officially tested in the next two flights, involving clones of the saucer-shaped vehicle.

Initial indications are that the vehicle successfully flew its flight test profile as planned, and deployed the two landing technologies. The first is a doughnut-shaped tube called the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD), with early indications that it deployed as expected. The second is an enormous parachute (the Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute). Imagery downlinked in real-time from the test vehicle indicates that the parachute did not deploy as expected

End NASA release

Although one aspect of the test did not go exactly as planned,  the overall project is one of the most directly relevant for an agency increasingly vocal about its ambitions to go to Mars.  Considering the fact that we can already launch more total payload to the Red Planet than we can safely land on the surface, the potential for developing a scalable solution for heavier payloads is arguably at least as important as developing larger launch vehicles in the first place. In this regard, one might wish NASA was committed to much more than the current test program.

Posted in: Mars, NASA

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